libre por fin

Las bibliotecas son muy importantes para nuestra familia. Generalmente cuando estamos en un nuevo lugar, visitamos una biblioteca. Por ejemplo, durante nuestros vacaciones en España hace tres años, visitamos bibliotecas en Toledo y Ronda.

Encontrar un lugar de estacionamiento en el centro es difícil a menudo. En Ronda, cerca de la biblioteca, no entendí cuando vi un letrero que decía libre en la entrada de un garaje. Supe que libre significa “free” en inglés, ¿pero cuál? ¿”Free” como no hay cuesta?, o ¿”free” como hay espacio disponible? Mucho después, entiendo que libre significa disponibilidad, pero gratis significa no se necesita dinero.

The English word “free” is ambiguous. On the one hand, it can mean that someone or something is available. On the other hand, it can refer to the ability to act without any legal restriction, social restraint, or monetary cost. The parking garage in Ronda had space available, but it would have cost money. To a degree, it’s similar to the difference between an item “for sale” (en venta, a la venta, se vende) — available for purchase — and an item “on sale” (en oferta) — offered at a presumably reduced price.

I was thinking about the word libre because today I began converting over to LibreOffice. For many years I have used LibreOffice as a free and open-source alternative to Microsoft Word. It’s been perfectly fine, save for occasional display glitches in documents with hundreds of footnotes. But my Microsoft license apparently expired this week — just two days ago I was able to edit an Excel spreadsheet, but yesterday I could no longer save any changes I made. As for Word documents, I could read the text, or save as PDF, or perhaps even print, but I could not make and then retain any changes. In fact, I couldn’t even copy or cut the text I had written, to paste into another document. For me, that was the last straw.

No one, no matter how powerful, should restrict our ability to transfer our own words from one private file to another.

Rather than pay for a subscription, I decided to use LibreOffice full-time instead. If anyone else is considering migrating from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice, here are some tips. To provide context, I am using a Mac running High Sierra (10.13.6), with LibreOffice I’ll write more about these OS and app versions at the end of this post.

The main issue — not unique to LibreOffice — involves the “walled garden” of MacOS. Sometimes apps aren’t allowed to be opened until granted permission in the Security Preferences. A little more unusually, as in the case of the two Excel documents I wanted to open with LibreOffice, I had to approve each file individually. In the case of the Word documents I tried this morning, it was even more convoluted. I received a message “<filename> is damaged and can’t be opened. You should move it to the Trash.” Rather than follow that silly advice, I opened a Terminal window and gave the command “xattr -d <filename-with-full-path>”, getting the filename by dragging its icon onto the Terminal window. Because doing this repeatedly will quickly get annoying, I made a TextExpander shortcut for this command.

After managing security permissions, I was able to open both Excel and Word files with little issue. In my Excel spreadsheets, the formulas were preserved, as well as important visual elements like color and even the behavior of frozen panes. I did have to dial the Zoom down to 86% or so. I will also have to manually reformat all dates into my preferred ISO 8601 (yyyy-mm-dd) format, but then again, I often have to do that on Excel. For Word, the file I tested was my CV, which appeared quite good except for the footer. The biggest problems are with PowerPoint, which crashed when I tried to open a rather large (~3 GB) file. For now, I can view and present existing slide presentations using the crippled version of PowerPoint, and even save them as PDFs, but can’t save any new edits. This could be a major issue If I ever want to create a new PowerPoint presentation that borrows existing slides.

Overall, I’m satisfied with how LibreOffice handles Excel “xlsx” files and Word “docx” files. Maybe it will be able to handle smaller PowerPoint files, but right now this is not a pressing problem, since I don’t expect to need PowerPoint very often at the moment.

Another alternative would be to shell out $30 for a lifetime subscription to Microsoft Office, because StackSocial is running a major sale on that product. However, there is the question of how long this “lifetime” will actually last, because a new version could break accessibility. In addition, this product requires the most recent version of MacOS.

I am running MacOS 10.13.6, which is a bit long in the tooth now. But it suits me perfectly fine, and I am very accustomed to the visual GUI. The most recent update of iPadOS included a rather ugly “enhancement” to the typeface of the clock when the tablet is locked. It is an horrible typeface that the user cannot control.

Also, I am running an old version of LibreOffice ( The most current version is 7.4.3. So maybe the new version handles Mac Security preferences more gracefully, and maybe it can handle PowerPoint presentations. I will have to download the most recent stable version, to be completamente libre por fin.

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